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THE MAGAZINE      October 2002
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Who Says There’s No free lunch?

CARRIE DRISCOLL Web conferencing is truly an educational experience at Winston & Strawn, one of the country’s 20 largest law firms. Since early 2001, the firm has used the Web to provide regular seminars to its clients. These webinars, called eLunch Briefings at the firm, are real-time hour-long programs presented monthly over the lunch hour.

For each eLunch Briefing, clients log onto a dedicated Web site where they watch a PowerPoint presentation and listen to lawyer-presenters via the telephone. Clients can ask questions through a chat mechanism and also participate in real-time polling questions posed by the lawyers. The eLunches are provided free of charge to W&S clients. But the seminars pay back big-time dividends.

Two of the firm’s practice groups—the labor and employment relations and the employee benefits and executive compensation departments—pioneered the eLunches as part of their strategy to reach clients on a regular basis. "Although we send frequent newsletters, there is no substitute for a careful, verbal explanation of some of these complicated issues," says Michael Melbinger, head of the employee benefits and executive compensation practice group. The webinars supplement the departments’ annual, daylong seminars and keep the firm regularly in touch with clients. The firm also gets valuable feedback on the topics that are of the greatest importance to clients. So far, the response has been positive, attendance has grown and the firm has added a valuable tool to its array of marketing initiatives.

Logistics and feedback Each month, the process begins by sending an e-mail invitation to the client list. Those who plan to attend reply and are sent instructions on how to participate. (The firm also mails a quarterly postcard to clients that includes the eLunch schedule for the upcoming months.) In the meantime, a team of two lawyers are busy preparing their presentation. So the lawyers can get comfortable with the technology before the live program, there is usually a practice run. But presentation of the webinar is actually quite easy, and it moves along with a few mouse clicks.

Response from the hundreds of client-attendees has been overwhelmingly positive. "Winston & Strawn’s eLunch programs are one of the key tools that my team uses to keep up with new trends and new developments in the law," says Sonja Kassebaum, director of human resources at eLoyalty Corporation. "These programs allow us to get answers to questions we have about new developments without any cost, which enables us to save our legal fee budget for the more complex and involved projects that inevitably arise. We really appreciate them."

W&S lawyers are fans of the format, too. "eLunches have proven to be an effective medium for communicating with our clients and prospects on the ever-changing labor and employment legal landscape and demonstrating the experience and expertise of our attorneys," says Chris Gangemi, head of W&S’s labor and employment relations practice group. "Refresher presentations are delivered on a cost-effective basis to an interested audience in the convenience of their—and our—offices," he adds.

Prognosis The eLunches have put the firm’s name in front of clients more often and are associated with expertise on new and complex topics. Because of "passed along" invitations, the program has also brought a new audience to the firm. According to W&S’s technology partner David Hambourger, "In contrast to some of the empty promises made about some of the technologies introduced during the Internet boom, Web conferencing has truly been win-win for us."

Carrie Driscoll (cdriscoll@winston.com) is Seminars and Marketing Training Manager at Winston & Strawn.